To understand the finances of biofuel, you have to consider both agriculture policy and energy policy. And as for farm bill subsidies, the press is rife with attacks on them—one of the chief criticisms being that they are outdated. “So far,” wrote the Post’s Morgan, “Congress has shown little inclination to adjust the subsidies to account for the new energy-driven rural economy.”
Forgive us for thinking that corn-based ethanol producers have received so many subsidies over the years that at this point they feel entitled to them. And that Woertz’s comments might just be a money grab by ADM, timed to pressure legislators. But that said, Woertz’s motivations are understandable. It is the FT’s responsibility to make them clear.
Perhaps the crux of the FT piece is a statement ADM made in October about switching out of biofuels:
ADM said last month it would switch production of corn toward high-fructose corn syrup or lysine production if ethanol became unprofitable.
Is that a threat? Where is the larger context that would help the reader understand what this means?
The irony here is that the ubiquity of high-fructose corn syrup — check your beverage and food labels — is also due to government subsidies, thanks to the farm bill. So ADM, its ethanol business faltering, is threatening to leave one government-supported program for another. Next ADM will be applying for food stamps.
Maybe the FT thinks a “welfare queen” is just like a real queen, like the kind they have back in England. Who knows?
And before we feel too sorry for ADM, let’s take a brief look at how the government has supported the company over the years.
We turn first to, yes, the Cato Institute. In 1995, James Bovard authored a study titled “Archer Daniels Midland: A Case Study in Corporate Welfare,” which undertook an examination of “the full scope of [ADM’s] parasitic relationship to the U.S. taxpayer.”
Bovard offers a summary of that relationship:
The Archer Daniels Midland Corporation (ADM) has been the most prominent recipient of corporate welfare in recent U.S. history. ADM and its chairman Dwayne Andreas have lavishly fertilized both political parties with millions of dollars in handouts and in return have reaped billion-dollar windfalls from taxpayers and consumers.
And a bit more specifically:
Thanks to federal protection of the domestic sugar industry, ethanol subsidies, subsidized grain exports, and various other programs, ADM has cost the American economy billions of dollars since 1980 and has indirectly cost Americans tens of billions of dollars in higher prices and higher taxes over that same period.
ADM’s position has not gone unnoticed in the press. A few years after the Cato study, Time published a long story on corporate welfare, including a section titled “ARCHER DANIELS MIDLAND: A Corny Story, but No One Is Laughing”:
The king of corporate welfare may be Archer Daniels Midland Co. The global agricultural-commodities dealer has artfully preserved one of the more blatant welfare programs—a subsidy for ethanol that has already cost taxpayers more than $5 billion in the 1990s. Some $3 billion of that has gone to ADM.
And Investor’s Business Daily, last year:
Between 1995 and 2004, U.S. taxpayers paid $41.9 billion to U.S. agribusiness, including politically active corporate giants such as Archer Daniels Midland. ADM got $4.5 billion in 2004 alone, according to the farm-subsidy database of the Environmental Working Group. Price-gouging and profiteering, anyone?
Jeff Goodell, this year, in Rolling Stone on “The Ethanol Scam”:
The ethanol boondoggle is largely a tribute to the political muscle of a single company: agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland.
And, of course, it can’t hurt when the FT serves to air, and elevate, ADM’s concern over its bottom line.